Brazil’s justice minister, Sérgio Moro, has been granted a leave of absence following a slew of damaging leaks that have cast serious doubts over his impartiality as a judge in a sweeping graft scandal.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, approved the break, from 15-19 July, for Moro to “deal with personal matters”, according to an official government document published on Monday.
The ministry said Moro will be on holiday, but analysts speculated Moro’s job was threatened following leaked cell phone chats which showed that as a judge, he guided prosecutors in the investigation which led to the imprisonment of powerful businessmen and politicians including the former Workers’ party president Lula da Silva.
The leaks, published since 9 June by the Intercept with some of Brazil’s major media outlets, have unleashed a political storm.
“It’s not common for ministers to take leave of absence,” said Jairo Nicolau, a professor of political science at Rio’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, a business school. “Moro’s situation is getting more and more difficult.”
Moro became a national hero for his role in Operation Car Wash. In July 2017, he jailed Lula, who was then barred from last year’s presidential elections.
Soon after Bolsonaro won the presidency, Moro accepted the job as justice minister. He has maintained that the conversations showed no wrongdoing, describing them as a “criminal attack” and suggesting they had been doctored.
During a grilling in congress, Moro refused to comment on a report that federal police had asked a finance ministry money laundering unit to investigate the American journalist Glenn Greenwald, the co-founder of the Intercept.
On Monday, Brazil’s federal court of accounts said it would give the unit 24-hours to explain the supposed investigation which it called “persecution and abuse of power, to intimidate the journalist” and a waste of public money.
Bolsonaro took minister Moro onto the pitch at Sunday’s final of the Copa América to test his popularity.